Falling trees and bleach fumes; the sad story of this week

Saturday, October 3, 2015

It’s so soggy in Spartanburg that a tree fell on campus last night – in a place known for its trees, this is a sad event. Roots can’t hold on to the earth if there is no earth to hold on to, and with soup for an anchor, just one puff of wind can flick the massive oaks past their point of balance and WHACK! Out come the chainsaws and other machines to clear the road. Just a sigh of relief that no buildings were damaged, and then no thought given to the hundreds of trees still left, tottering in the mud.

It’s been this wet all week – raining for longer. I’ve gotten so used to the constant mist and drizzle that I don’t pull my raincoat out of my backpack unless raindrops are running down my forehead into my eyes. Otherwise, I walk through the cloud-like moisture to class, ignoring it. My hair has become its own creature, and I do my best to compromise with the beast.

Hurricane Joaquin may be spinning away from our coast, but he’s spitting some record-breaking storm fronts right back at the South, almost as if to spite us for depriving him of a landfall. Wednesday was beautiful. I got a glove tan line from my hour-long riding lesson – it was hot and sunny for the first time in more than two weeks, not to mention dry enough to work in the arena without worrying about the horses slipping in the soupy footing. It was a beautiful mid-week blessing.

But Thursday, Wofford woke up to the news that businesses bordering our campus (at our feet, almost, buried in the hillside) had been flooded. The roads at the bottom of the hill were covered in mud, and the car salesmen spent all day power-washing their lots and wiping down their cars, which looked more like an army fleet than a colorful inventory of used vehicles. Everything was red clay-tinted, even where the water had receded. It kept drizzling most of Thursday, but nicely, as if the skies were apologizing for the damage they’d inflicted.

A person had died in the Thursday floods, I would learn. Trapped in a vehicle that got swept under a bridge. Multiple bridges were closed underneath, from silting or rapid water currents or maybe even instability – who knows? Somewhere else in the area, a bridge collapsed into the muddy waters below, looking a lot like a sinkhole although none of the reporters called it that explicitly, at least not that I heard. Wofford students were advised to remain on campus – our property is one of the highest points in Spartanburg, which both protects us and makes escape difficult.

I was supposed to go to a clinic in Pendleton today. After the heavy rains Friday night into Saturday morning, there was no safe way for me to get to where I needed to go. Too many dips in the road where I knew the road would be flooded, if not susceptible to collapse. I stayed in bed and pouted.

On Thursday, the dry-cleaning and laundry business that had been filled to the brim with muddy runoff was hosed down – much of that mud and water ended up in the streets, as if it needed any more. On campus, I was shocked to find that the grounds crew (or at least their supervisor) seemed to think it a good idea to power wash the cement outside my dorm – to clean the stone and the bricks that would in a few hours be rained on once again. They used more than a dozen bottles of bleach on maybe thirty yards of sidewalk, for lack of a better term. The bleach-bubbled water ran through the grass and down the walkway to the curb, flowing down into the system that already had too much water in it. Maybe some of the bleach ended up at the laundromat after last night’s rain… it more than likely ended up in Lawson’s Fork Creek or some other system, already overwhelmed.

All day, it smelled like bleach… Bleach, fertilizer, and rain. Why the fertilizer seemed a good idea, I don’t know. A guy on a tractor drove through the play-dough ground, leaving behind muddy tire tracks, shredded grass, and millions of little white pieces of chemicals that often missed the lawn and landed on the sidewalk – or in the puddles in the road. How much of that fertilizer stayed where it was spewed?

I don’t understand. I know there’s some sort of logic behind these decisions, but I can’t find it.

On Friday morning, I noticed six cigarette butts scattered on the covered walkway where the cement had just been bleached. The stone on the walkway, the cement on the sidewalk and the bricks in the courtyard all had a milky white film on them.

One butt lay swollen in the watery crack between two bricks – how far did its owner have to throw the cigarette to deposit it here? This one is a long way away from the covering, where smoke breaks take place right in front of the door so that I have to hold my breath on my way to class. I do so unapologetically – I’m an asthmatic, and smoke is one of my triggers.

Walking to class on Thursday and Friday, it smelled like chemicals more than anything. I inhaled diesel as I walked by workers with leafblowers – quite ineffective when the leaves are stuck to their spots – and I inhaled bleach fumes every time I left or returned to my dorm. I could also smell the fertilizer, even with a severe cold. How alarming.

Wofford gave tours all day Friday. Mentally, as each group passed by my study spot, I apologized for the smell. It’s not always like this. Not always.

As I write this, we have a pool in our courtyard, due to an ineffective drain. I wonder how long it will take for maintenance to bring out the bleach… how many hours after the floodwaters recede will they bring out the blowers? Mow the mud?

As a resident of this gorgeous campus, as a student, as an environmental studies major, as a human – I beg us to slow down. Look up, and watch for falling trees, lest we be in the trajectory as we power wash a sidewalk, adding more broth to the soup.

P.S.: I realize that the list of tasks to be completed by the grounds crew is overwhelmingly long and that there are many unseen factors that go into each decision. I am not trying to accuse anybody of being incompetent. I simply want to share a perspective. We have to be intentional with our maintenance: not despite our high and dry location, but precisely because of it.

What are your thoughts? Comment below!

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Published by

Sarah Madden

Currently an intern at Tryon International Equestrian Center, Sarah graduated from Wofford College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and environmental studies. Sarah competed with the Wofford College Equestrian Team, is a PATH Int'l Certified Therapeutic Riding Instructor, and in her spare time, enjoys playing with and riding her American Saddlebred mare, Dancer.

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